August 27, 1859, petroleum was discovered in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It’s been called “the most important oil well ever drilled” because it marked the beginning of the modern petroleum age. Petroleum had been discovered elsewhere, of course, but this was the first well successfully drilled in search of the stuff. Locals had noticed oil seeping from the ground for years; evidence even suggests that Native Americans harvested the oil for medicinal purposes as early as 1410, and European settlers had long used it to fuel their lamps and lubricate their farm machinery. A New York lawyer, George Bissell, had the idea to somehow collect the oil, refine it, and sell it commercially, and he co-founded the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company to that end.
The Drake Well was named for railroad conductor Edwin Drake, who figured out a drilling system to access and collect the oil. Within a day of striking oil, other people were copying Drake’s drilling system. The Drake Well only produced about 20 barrels a day, but it transformed the quiet farming community almost overnight, attracting would-be oil company executives and coopers to make the hundreds of barrels needed to collect the crude. Until the Texas oil boom of 1901, Pennsylvania was responsible for half of the world’s production of oil, and it spawned the motor oil brands Pennzoil and Quaker State. Edwin Drake never patented his drilling process, and died in poverty in 1880.
source: The Writer’s Almanac – Garrison Keillor